McALLEN, November 3 - The Diocese of Brownsville says it does not want the Rio Grande Valley to lose PBS if it decides to sell public broadcasting station KMBH-TV.
KMBH’s Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley learned last Wednesday that the Diocese had found a likely buyer for the TV station and that the station’s staff has been told.
The advisory board was also told that KMBH 88 FM would likely be retained by the Diocese, though questions remain over whether it would continue to broadcast NPR programming.
“To date, a contract has not been signed for the sale of KMBH-TV. As information becomes available we will have more details,” said Brenda Nettles Riojas, director of Diocesan Relations.
“I will share that PBS programming is of great interest in the community and neither the board advising the bishop, PBS, nor the diocese have any motivation to cease PBS programming to the Rio Grande Valley.”
KMBH’s Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley is made up of citizens that support KMBH and non-commercial TV and radio in the Valley. It held its fall quarterly meeting McAllen last Wednesday. At the meeting, KMBH President Robert Gutierrez gave brief details on the potential sale of KMBH-TV by the Diocese.
Gutierrez said an announcement had been made to KMBH staff on Sept. 4 by the committee that advises Bishop Daniel Flores on KMBH matters. The chairman of that committee is Alvaro Gonzalez, a financial advisor based in McAllen.
“The board chair of KMBH came to the station to make an announcement about the sale of the station. I want to let you guys know, I can’t talk or let you know too much more but they are seriously looking at selling the station,” Gutierrez said.
Asked if the Diocese has a buyer, Gutierrez said: “I think they do.”
Gutierrez pointed out that KMBH-TV is a commercial license designated as non-commercial. He said it was designated non-commercial by Bishop John Fitzpatrick back in 1983. He said any new owner of the station could file with the Federal Communications Commission to change it into a commercial license. If that were to happen PBS could be lost.
Asked if KMBH 88 FM would be included in the sale, Gutierrez said: “I believe they (the Diocese) are just looking at the TV. I do not know what the future of the radio will be. From what I hear the Diocese is going to stay with the radio but I do not what its future will be,” Gutierrez said.
Tom Woolsey hosts the Jazz After Dark show on KMBH 88 FM and is a member of the Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley. “I would hate the (Valley) market to be losing NPR,” Woolsey said at the meeting.
Gutierrez said if members of the Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley have any questions they can send them to him and he will forward them to the board. Alternatively, he said, they could forward them directly to the board or to Brenda Nettles Riojas.
“We are all kind of waiting to see what our future will be,” Gutierrez said. Asked if NPR or PBS knows about a potential sale of KMBH-TV, Gutierrez said: “NPR? I do not know. TV knows about it. They were real upset.”
Gutierrez said he had an obligation to let the Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley’s members know about a potential sale of KMBH-TV because the station’s staff had been told.
“It is kind of disappointing because we have been doing really, really well. But I guess I can understand the burden it has been on the Diocese a little bit,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez was named president of KMBH in June 2011. At the time, its finances were rocky. He told the Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley that the financial picture has improved over the past two years.
“Our finances have always been troubling but they have really improved over the last two years. They have been phenomenal. We were looking to be very profitable. This was the year everything was coming together. Business was good. We have been blowing and going. But, unfortunately, because of this, it has led to some restrictions and what I can and cannot do. Business is limited and that is starting to hurt me.”
After the meeting, Community Advisory Board - Upper Valley members said they had nothing but praise for Gutierrez for turning the around the fortunes of KMBH, noting that the station has been nominated for a Lone Star Emmy for a documentary on mental health titled A Reason to Live.
Members also discussed the “cultural desert” that existed in the Valley before PBS and NPR was provided.
“It fills the gap,” said board member Shawn Seale. Seale said she records a lot of PBS programs to watch later. “I tape the news seven days a week off of the television and Sunday nights I tape at least three hours in a row off television. You can get NPR over the satellite but you cannot get television over the satellite.”
Gerard Mittlestaedt, a retired librarian, said he can remember living in the Valley before it had PBS and NPR. “I felt I was living in a cultural desert without it. Every time I came south on (Highway) 77 I was tuned to the Corpus Christi public broadcasting station and I can tell you within a mile when that thing went out. It was just south of Raymondville,” Mittlestaedt said.
Fellow advisory board member Edgar Lopez hails from Laredo. He said he could only pick up NPR when he drove north to Pearsall. “By the time I got towards San Antonio, boy did I look forward to that. You could just start catching it at Pearsall. In the wintertime the airwaves would come further south. It was precious,” Lopez said.
Mittelstaedt acknowledged things are not as bad now because NPR can be picked up on the Internet. However, he said it was still preferable to receive NPR programming over the air.
Lopez agreed. “It is next to heaven because it is un-biased reporting and in depth. It would be a great loss to the community,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian provides news stories to KMBH 88 FM for its Closer to Home morning show.